Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Deafening silence

Iran was Europe's project. For months and months France, Germany and Britain negotiated with the mullahs, giving a little here and a little more there and not getting much in return either on the all-important subject of nuclear build-up or on the somewhat less important one of human rights.

Then came the elections, in which a large proportion of the candidates were banned from standing, thus proving without any doubt that the EU’s soft foreign policy of spreading democratic and European values quietly works. Well, it may have proved it to some people.

The final run-off, in which the army and the security forces were heavily involved (they need to exercise their political rights of preventing people from voting, ensuring that they voted for the right person and generally imposing order) produced an unexpected president.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was, according to the BBC and other media outlets, an obscure figure when he became Mayor of Teheran in 2003 and not much better known in the presidential race. The one thing that was known about him was that he was a hard-liner, who had managed to roll back some of the very mild reforms in his official capacity.

“He reportedly spent no money on his campaign - but he was backed by powerful conservatives who used their network of mosques to mobilise support for him, the BBC's Iran analyst Sadeq Saba says.

He also has the support of a group of younger, second-generation revolutionaries known as the Abadgaran, or Developers, who are strong in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis.”

Since his election we have found out a little more. He is likely to be of one mind with the Grand Ayatollah on the subject of reforms and human rights.

He has also made unequivocal statements about Iran’s nuclear programme that he has always supported. In his view Iran’s national pride is at stake and the country must not give in to the Europeans’ demands. Whether Iran’s pride is also at stake in supporting various terrorist groups like Hizbollah, has not been specified.

There has been very little response from the Europeans, apart from a mild finger-wagging from Jack Straw.

Then came other revelations. Several of the American hostages captured immediately after the Iranian revolution maintain that Mr Ahmadinejad was among those who captured them. He denies it, as do some of the others who had been involved in the operation but are now his political opponents.

Mr Ahmadinejad maintains that he joined the Revolutionary Guards after the revolution. He is reported to have been involved in covert operations during the Iran-Iraq war.

Still, we have heard nothing from the European politicians, usually so quick to condemn certain people.

A new problem has surfaced. Mr Ahmadinejad is being accused of masterminding the assassination of Adbel Aahmane Ghassemlou, an Iranian Kurdish leader in Vienna in 1989.

Peter Pilz, an Austrian Green Party politician and defence expert maintains that he has been given evidence by an Iranian journalist that Ahmadinejad travelled to Austria just before the assassination to hand over the weapons to the “commandos” who carried out the assassination.

Ghassemlou and his two associates were lured to their death by promises of negotiation about autonomy for Iranian Kurdistan. Instead, they were murdered and their bullet-riddled bodies were found by the Austrian police the following day, who also found the murder weapon and arrested two suspects, identifying a third one.

According to Iran Focus:

“One of the detainees was Brig. Gen. Mohammad Jaafar Sahraroudi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Ramezan Garrison in western Iran. The second suspect was Amir Mansour Bozorgian, an under-cover officer of Iran’s secret police, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

It was Sahraroudi who had recruited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a team leader for the operation. While Sahraroudi commanded the “on-site” team that carried out the killings in the flat where the talks with the Kurdish delegation were being held, Ahmadinejad was leading the support team that took care of logistics and escape routes. He received the weapons and ammunition for the operation from the Iranian embassy in Vienna, after they were smuggled to Vienna in diplomatic pouches.”

True or not, the full story was never evaluated, as it never came to court. Austria had been negotiating various trade agreements with Iran and when Teheran exerted some pressure the suspects were put on a plane and sent home.

Now the story has resurfaced via the so far unidentified Iranian journalist, Der Standard, other media outlets and Peter Pilz, who is demanding a full investigation and an indictment of the new Iranian President. He has put the whole story up on his website, adding:

“Now the Iranian president has something to clear up before a court in Vienna.”

The Austrian government is in something of a quandary. On the one hand, the Justice Ministry maintains that it is trying to verify the story, despite the fact that the Austrian ambassador in Teheran, Michael Stigglebauer, has been summoned by the Iranian Ministry of Interior.

On the other hand, according to Baztab, the state-run Iranian website, a number of Austrian corporations, afraid that Iran may break off trade contracts, have called on the government not to pursue the case.

“Baztab quoted a director of an Austrian company, “which exports 35 million dollars worth of equipment and machinery to Iran annually,” as saying that after approaching the Foreign Ministry, he was told no government official had as of yet stated any official position regarding the case.

“The Austrian government is looking to strengthen ties with Iran. Two years ago, its chancellor travelled to Iran and met with Iranian heads of state in a very amicable environment”, the company director was told.”

In the meantime, there has been a deafening silence from the rest of the EU. What do the French, British and German negotiators think of the way matters are developing? Why is the European Parliament not demanding something or condemning somebody? I think we should be told.

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